WASHINGTON – Officials at the American Legion are accusing the White House and members of Congress of using veterans in their efforts to win over the public during a partial government shutdown — and ask that they stop and get a deal done.
Outside the closed National World War II Memorial on the National Mall, officials with the veterans group said Friday that lawmakers from both parties are guilty of the tactic.
"Don't use the men and women who sacrificed for the security of this nation as a pawn, as a tool, to persuade the American public one way or the other," Peter Gaytan, executive director of the American Legion, told reporters. "Stop using the veterans, because veterans are suffering because of the bickering in Congress."
The GOP-led House has approved stopgap measures to fund various benefits administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs during a shutdown. Republicans used the votes to criticize Democratic representatives in competitive congressional districts.
Democrats largely back the Obama administration's approach to funding the entire government rather than approve piecemeal bills. To bolster their case, they cited comments from veterans groups criticizing short-term resolutions as "not acceptable."
President Barack Obama also has cited veterans in the debate, describing an example of a furloughed worker as "somebody in a VA office who's counseling one of our vets who's got PTSD." However, the VA has made clear that veterans seeking health care will have full access to VA facilities during the shutdown.
Most of the VA's budget is not affected by the partial shutdown, but disability claims, pensions and education benefits are in danger of being cut off if the shutdown extends into late October.
Veterans groups have been careful not to blame one side or the other for the shutdown.
"I blame the president, the Senate and the House for the impasse," Daniel M. Dellinger, national commander of the American Legion, said to applause from several dozen veterans and spectators standing outside the World War II memorial.
But the effort to stay neutral may also have lessened the pressure to reach an agreement.
"I think it's going to go on for weeks," Dellinger said.